Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

How The Library Can Save You $750

Or more. Per year. A guide to reclaiming your tax dollars.

By - Jan 15th, 2018 06:07 pm
2017 Book Collage

2017 Book Collage

What if I told you I could get you $750 off your property taxes? Sounds hard to believe, but it turns out there is a way to effectively do just that. All you have to do is check out materials from the Milwaukee Public Library.

In 2017 I read 56 books, 47 of which I picked up from the Central Library. I acquired most of them in pretty much the same way as I would from Amazon: I go online, pick out what I want and then two days later it’s in my possession. The Milwaukee County Federal Library System allows you to request any materials be shipped to the nearest library at no charge. They’ll notify you when it’s ready, and you just stop by to pick it up. Things get even easier through their program to check out ebooks. The materials are just downloaded to your device.

So just how much can one save? Quite a bit. Examining only the books I checked out and read in 2017, I logged the price of a new physical copy of each item from Amazon. The net result was $734.14 in savings. Throw in the books and movies my wife checked out, and we easily saved $1,000 getting them all from the library.

Some were great, some were duds, but collectively they all cost nothing more than a scan of my library card.

The List

  1. Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker $35.00
  2. Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City by Neal Bascomb$18.98
  3. The Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball by John Helyar$27
  4. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson$10.89
  5. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell$12.25
  6. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources Of Love, Character, And Achievement by David Brooks$11.66
  7. Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel$10.35
  8. Skyscraper: The Search for an American Style 1891-1941 by Roger Shepherd$7.47
  9. Zoo Station by David Downing$9.64
  10. Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities by Ryan Gravel$15.60
  11. Democratic by Design: Why Co-ops, Credit Unions and Communes Are the Only Path to an Equitable America by Gabriel Metcalf$14.33
  12. Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives by Deborah Padgett$27.87
  13. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis$14.33
  14. Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre by Jeff Pearlman$10.31
  15. The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World by Brad Stone$20.40
  16. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy$10.87
  17. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath$8.92
  18. The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators by Charles Landry$41.86
  19. The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith$10.86
  20. Cities for People by Jan Gehl$47.60
  21. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly$4.99
  22. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander$37.44
  23. A $500 House in Detroit : Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City by Drew Phillip$14.07
  24. The History of Montreal: The Story of Great North American City by Paul-André Linteau$16.05
  25. Old Montreal: History Through Heritage by Joanne Burgess – $11.00
  26. Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade$7.73
  27. Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability by David Owen$16.00
  28. The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett$11.52
  29. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg$13.42
  30. The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport by Rafi Kohan$16.09
  31. Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform by Tommie Shelby$21.61
  32. Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done by Jocelyn K. Glei$10.30
  33. How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz$18.28
  34. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean$17.74
  35. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson$13.60
  36. Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein$14.40
  37. Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment by Wenonah Hauter$8.21
  38. The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy by Leigh Gallagher$12.86
  39. Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense by David Cay Johnston$10.55
  40. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson$6.29
  41. Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees in the American Cityscape by Jill Jonnes$13.88
  42. Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard V. Reeves$16.18
  43. Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities by Chad Broughton$16.13
  44. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline$9.19
  45. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman$10.79
  46. North Shore South Shore by Russ Porter$9.09
  47. The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair by Margaret Creighton$10.54

Still not convinced the library has value to you? The benefits of the modern library go far beyond checking out books, albums and movies. They provide free and open spaces to hold community meetings. They provide free internet access and access to computers. Perhaps most importantly, they are one of the last indoor places you can go without the expectation of having to spend money.

The city will spend $23.2 million on operating the public library system in 2018. That bulk of that, $17.9 million, will go towards salaries and benefits for the system’s 298 employees. In addition, to operate the system’s 14 locations, the city will spend $664,000 for electricity and $406,000 for information technology services. Perhaps most importantly to library visitors, the system will spend slightly more than $1.7 million on new materials — which can save a lot of money for borrowers of the stuff.

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: How The Library Can Save You $750”

  1. Thomas Gaudynski says:


    what a great column. Yes the library is my favorite bookstore. I don’t know how many imaginary master’s degree syllabi I’ve read through from the library.

    While I don’t have the links, here 25 or so I read last year from the library:

    J. M. W. Turner: A Critical Biography by Jack Lindsay (MPL)
    Reductionism In Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures by Eric R. Kandel (MPL)
    Humanism and Democratic Criticism by Edward W. Said (MPL)
    Orientalism by Edward W. Said (Vintage Books, 1979) (MPL)
    Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life by Giorgio Agamben, (1995) (MPL)
    The Complete Orsinia by Ursula Le Guinn (MPL)
    Hainish Novels and Stories, Volume One and Two by Ursula LeGuin (MPL)
    Miłosz by Andrzej Franaszek (MPL)
    The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life. (MPL)
    Breezeway by Ashbery (MPL)
    Commotion of the Birds by John Ashbery (MPL)
    Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos, Volume One and Two, Loren Eiseley, (2017) (MPL)
    All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life by Loren Eiseley (1975)
    The Book that changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller (2017) (MPL)
    Dawn of the Gods by Jacquetta Hawkes (MPL)
    Volume One and Two: The History and Purpose of Archaeology, and Its Greatest Discoveries about the Stone Ages, and in the Fertile Crescent, edited by Jacquetta Hawkes
    The Mind in the Cave by David Lewis-Williams (2002) (MPL)
    Inside the Neolithic Mind: consciousness, cosmos and the realm of the gods by David Lewis-Williams (2005) (MPL)
    The Seven Caves: Archaeological Explorations in the Middle East by Carleton S. Coon (Knopf, 1957) (MPL)
    The Complete Poems of Sappho, translated by Willis Barnstone (Shambala, 2009) (MPL)
    Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth by Joseph Alexander MacGillivray (Hill and Wang, 2000) (MPL)
    The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker (MPL)

    My favorite resource. And although we save money reading there, it is also important for us to contribute to their welfare so all can read there too.

    Read on.

  2. Mamie says:

    Yessssss! And for those busy people who just cannot even fathom finding time in their schedules to park, walk, and navigate the Central library to find the books you want to read…they have a drive thru pickup! I love this resource, and hope that it is never taken away from me. At least not until my three young children are grown. I use that drive thru more than I use a coffee shop or fast food drive thru 🙂 Awesome. Just awesome!

  3. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    My father taught me to read and write when I was two years old, and we always went to the library, and I received my own card as soon as I was old enough (in New York City), and I’ve been using the library to this day! Yes, it’s an invaluable resource (and you can use computers there too!).

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us